2494960
Flashback: Coast Guard seamen and officers during the 57th Commissioning Anniversary Parade at the T&T Coast Guard headquarters in Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas.

Rhondor Dowlat-Rostant

Three members of the T&T Coast Guard (TTCG) have tested positive for COVID-19 and their fellow colleagues are calling on the relevant authorities to do what they must to protect the rest of them.

Coast Guardsmen in Staubles Bay are continuing to carry out their respective duties and at the Coast Guard heliport base.

Guardian Media was reliably informed that two seamen tested positive at Staubles Bay and a third officer at the heliport also tested positive.

Officers at the heliport have been overseeing illegal immigrants in quarantine while they await deportation.

One officer who is not authorised to speak on the record said he did not believe that the immigrants were properly handled.

“When they are intercepted onboard vessels they are immediately brought into the Coast Guard vessels and handed over to the police. No testing was being done and then they were transferred to the heliport for quarantine but still no testing was being done. We, the officers are the ones who have to take their vitals every morning and that’s it. They are now sharing the toilet facilities and Mess area with other officers. That’s wrong, all our health is at risk to COVID-19,” the officer said.

He said that on July 28, a group of over 100 was taken from the heliport to Staubles Bay.

“The procedure is we keep them for over a period of 14 days quarantine, however, it’s really when the Venezuelan Coast Guard gets fuel to receive them,” the Coast Guard officer said.

He added that not everyone was kept for 14 days because once the Venezuelan Coast Guard arrived, they had to carry the Venezuelans to meet them out at sea.

A senior immigration officer has also questioned whether due process is taking place, given that some repatriations are taking place without inquests to determine if they were trafficked and by whom.

On August 6, Amnesty International (AI) criticised recent deportations saying that they violated international law.

According to a report issued by AI last Thursday, Louise Tillotson, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International, alleged that it’s no secret that T&T’s authorities criminalize irregular entry, contrary to international human rights standards.

It added, “but to deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of a pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that T&T has committed to under international law. No one should be forced back to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.”

Tillotson, in the report, said to deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of a pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that T&T has committed to under international law.

In a news conference on July 25, National Security Minister Stuart Young claimed that “illegal immigrants” and “boat people” and businessmen that “trafficked” them present a potential health risk and issued a hotline number for people to report to (555). He also said that Venezuelans who registered and were given legal residency and the right to work under the government’s so-called “amnesty” process in 2019 who were found to be “harbouring” irregular migrants could have their residency revoked and face deportation. Landlords found to be renting to irregular migrants could also be subject to criminal charges, the minister added.

Young when contacted by the Guardian Media on the issue would only respond by saying: “These Venezuelans were all legally deported in accordance with the Immigration laws of T&T. All of these Venezuelans entered T&T illegally and were quarantined until arrangements were made to repatriate them. As soon as the Venezuelan authorities were ready to receive their nationals the arrangements were made and they were legally repatriated.”

The public is being asked by the police to continue its partnership in reporting suspected illegal immigrants and illicit activities to the police via the 555 hotline.